When I first saw the announcement regarding the Bayonetta & Vanquish 10th Anniversary Bundle, my first thought was “When did I get so old?” Had it really been close to a decade since PlatinumGames released these iconic games? After I dragged myself out of that existential crisis, though, I thought about what a treat this would be. There was the re-release on the Nintendo Switch and the backward compatibility for the Xbox One, but a vast majority of gamers have missed out on both titles. Now that Sega has given an HD shine to both, there’s no better time to experience them.
Both Bayonetta and Vanquish dabble in camp but under different circumstances. Starring the titular witch, Bayonetta is a decadent romp that often borders on the incoherent. There are angelic forces known as Lumens, a Joe Pesci-like sidekick, and some moments that can (unfortunately) only be referred to as horny. Obviously, it’s all very tongue-in-cheek, and how well that humor works for you will vary from person to person. Even after all these years, I still find it all rather hit and miss, but it’s hard to deny that it still isn’t an effective parody of the genre.
Vanquish’s action-movie troping plot still feels prescient, although not in the way it originally did. DARPA Agent Sam Gideon is recruited by the US military to fight against a rogue sect of the Russian Federation known as the Order of the Russian Star. From it’s generic dialogue to gruff characterization, it’s a loving homage to classic action flicks. It also worked as a subtle spoof of the jingoistic military shooters that dominated the landscape in 2010. Ten years later, though, the President of the United States colluding with a foreign government hits a little closer to home.
It certainly wasn’t the intricate, fleshed-out stories that made each of these titles into cult hits, though. Both of them caught on because of their incredibly strong gameplay. Each of them is reminiscent of other, more popular franchises — however, they each put their own unique spin on that basic formula. Ultimately, it’s these changes and variations that made the duo stand the test of time as well as they did. Even if they have been bested by subsequent releases, there’s still a timelessness to them that makes them valuable in the year of our Lord 2020.
Directed by Hideki Kamiya, Bayonetta is a somehow more stylish take on his previous work, Devil May Cry. With its mix of shooting and close-quarters fighting, it’s hard not to see the resemblance to Dante’s misadventures. Despite only using a three-button system, though, the combat engine is mind-bogglingly deep. This is my second time going through the campaign, and I still feel like I haven’t scratched the surface. When you begin to factor in all of the varieties Bayo has for dispatching her foes, it’s not hard to see why the game managed to find such a passionate audience. It’s the type of slick action game that you want to experiment with in order to boost per level marks.
While the combat sections have held up over time, other aspects of Bayonetta’s gameplay have not. I’m certainly no stranger to quick-time events, but the ones on display here really throw me off. I hate how they are instadeath, especially in a game built around scoring points. However, since every action game from the last console generation needed them, they get wedged in here. I’m also not a huge fan of the vehicle focused segments that show up later in the story. I get that they are homages to Sega’s past works, but I don’t find either Route 666 or Isla Del Sol particularly enjoyable. With the core gameplay as strong as it is, these little side segments get in the way of the action more than they provide a solid break.
Vanquish, on the other hand, probably plays better now than it did in 2010. It’s mix of cover-based shooting and near bullet-hell like craziness still remains an oddity. Think of it like Gears of War on uppers. Besides utilizing cover, the core gameplay is built around two other facets. Sam’s advanced suit gives him both super speed and faster reflexes, which are both necessary in order to survive the battle against the Order. The suit’s super-speed allows Sam to boost around enemies, but for some reason is only done when he is power-sliding like Bruce Springsteen. Faster reflexes basically play out as bullet-time segments, with Sam being able to deftly dodge enemy fire, and then get into position to lobby his own back. Both of these actions drain the suit’s power, though, so you need to be smart about when to utilize them.
What I love about the combat engine in Vanquish is that utilizing cover is not designed to be a crutch. It’s an important tool in Sam’s arsenal, but it’s not the only tool. It’s just a prop for him. This is purposefully done in order to keep him on the move. The developers want you to utilize all aspects of the suit — not just sit behind a wall and pick off enemies. I didn’t mention it in the last paragraph, but I also love how the game uses its weapons. There are only a handful of ones to use, and Sam can carry up to three at a time. These can then be upgraded with specific drops that you find. There’s no one specific super gun, though, and the same ones you find in the first act are the same ones you find in the final one. Again, it asks you not to rely on one weapon as a crutch, but rather experiment with all of them.
Obviously these aren’t full remasters, so don’t go into either title expecting massive visual overhauls. However, both titles still manage to look decent enough with some HD shine. It helps that they both have unique art styles that still stand out. The main reason you would be interested in this set, though, should be the performance bump each one’s received. When Bayonetta first launched, the PlayStation 3 version was slammed for abysmal performance. Luckily, Sony owners can now experience the title at its best, as it runs like a gem on newer hardware. I don’t remember Vanquish having any significant issues when I first played it, but it also runs extremely well on PlayStation 4. The only issue I have is that some of the cutscenes do show the slightest amount of lag.
The Bayonetta & Vanquish 10th Anniversary Bundle may not be the grand celebration that either one deserves, but it is still the definitive way to experience these action masterpieces. Bayonetta sports some of the slickest, deepest combat for the genre, and it’s wrapped up in an absurd story that barely tries to be coherent. Vanquish is a white-knuckle thrill ride that makes up for its short length by never letting up on the action. There may not be anything new here for those who’ve already given them both a spin, but if you are a fan of the genre and never picked up either, you owe it to yourself to do so now.
This review was based on the PlayStation 4 versions of both games. Copies were provided to us by Sega.
Even after all of these years, both Bayonetta and Vanquish remain absolute action-packed classics. This bundle may not be the celebration they deserve, but both games are absolutely worth revisiting.